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The Falcons are hoping to make more plays on the ball in 2019

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Atlanta’s been slowly building a better defense, but critically, also a more opportunistic one.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Here’s an interesting stat that you may not have been aware of: Since 2010, only three Falcons have managed to finish their careers in Atlanta with double digit career interceptions. Those four players are William Moore (16, 11th on the all-time list), Thomas DeCoud (14), Brent Grimes (13), and Robert Alford (10). The only other players knocking at the door at the moment are Desmond Trufant (9 since 2013), Deion Jones (8 since 2016), and Damontae Kazee (7 since 2017, all of them last year).

Yet for those numbers, the Falcons were a more turnover-happy team under Mike Smith. The talent deficiencies on the defenses from 2008-2014 were covered up by a team that could be extremely opportunistic, with a typically strong secondary and solid group of linebackers who picked up picks and pass deflections at a clip Dan Quinn defenses haven’t really managed. This table helps to tell the tale.

Falcons INTs & PDs

Year Interceptions Pass Deflections
Year Interceptions Pass Deflections
2018 15 72
2017 8 65
2016 12 88
2015 15 61
2014 16 66
2013 10 58
2012 20 82
2011 19 86
2010 22 71
2009 15 64
2008 10 76

The dearth of interceptions (and to a lesser extent, deflections) has been a feature of Dan Quinn’s defenses, not a bug. This team has prized added more speed, physicality, and overall talent to the defense, with progress coming in fits and starts. As good as this defense has looked at times, however, they’ve only moderately improved the pass rush and they haven’t been able to get the kind of defensive turnovers and (again, to a lesser extent) plays on the ball that allowed the Falcons to stay competitive in the Mike Smith era.

What’s clear is that the Falcons are trying to remedy that with the current build of their secondary, and indeed their entire defense.

The prime example is Damontae Kazee. The third-year safety/cornerback was an interception machine in 2018, tying for the league lead with seven thanks to his aggressive play and instincts. They’ve added Isaiah Oliver (2 picks, 12 pass deflections in his senior year) and Jordan Miller and Kendall Sheffield (both 2 picks, 6 pass deflections their senior years) to the cornerback group, and their defense already featured Deion Jones, a reliable source of both picks and deflections. Oliver and Sheffield in particular are plus athletes with good size and an aggressive history of play, and Kazee porting over to cornerback is going to give him plenty of shots at making plays.

The results of the shift here are noteworthy, and while we don’t know how the defense will look with more Kazee at corner and more Oliver, period, we do know that 2018 suggests this defense should be able to make more plays on the ball with the new additions and Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen returning. My hope is that we’ll get the kind of fundamental improvements we’ve long been promised with the turnover-happy back seven that kept the Mike Smith-era defenses afloat.